It is becoming a gruesome tradition. A daring feat requiring a fatal concoction of ingredients: a lot of desperation, a generous pinch of poverty, false hope, real bravery and a few planks of wood hammered together in the shape of a rickety boat. Death is plaguing the Mediterranean coast through scores of African and Middle Eastern migrants seeking a solution, to the prospects of a life they see worth endangering in order to escape one that would leave them no better off. Just in the past month, there have been close to fifteen hundred deaths due to the shipwreck of boats attempting to reach European soil.
Extended between various points of southern Europe, the vessels have been arriving unexpectedly and meeting their end off the coasts of frontier locations such as Rhodes in Greece or Lampedusa in Italy. Coastguards have been overworked and migrant reception centres have quickly exceeded their capacity, to the point where Lampedusa’s infrastructure initially built to house eight hundred people has rocketed to almost fifty thousand. This of course, is nothing new. Lampedusa is far from a stranger when it comes to accommodating the arrival of illegal migrants. For the last fifteen years, the Italian island has been receiving unsurmountable quantities of arrivals that are difficult for the authorities to contend with. The only difference to the pattern seems to be that the numbers keep increasing.
They became exponential as the Arab Spring got on its way and have remained so to date, something that is vastly preoccupying for the European Union as the numbers have shown no sign of a halt. On the contrary, the proneness to find a migrant attempting to make a death-defying crossing is today greater than it has ever been. There are a number of reasons for the continuous movement of migrants up north. The first one is the instability in the regions from which they originate. Countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria top the charts. The latter’s figures are greater than second place Afghanistan’s by almost fourfold, something understandable given the situation in the troubled Middle Eastern nation.
The second reason is the increased capacity of the boats: this past April, for the first time during the long crisis, more people have died on a single vessel than in the totality of previous years. The shipwreck of the 13th April saw the disappearance of five hundred people in one sitting. If we compare this to 2013’s total toll of just over four hundred people, we are struck by gravity of the situation: we are not even midway through the year and already the death count from two years ago has been surpassed by one single incident. The third reason for this is the lack of control from the departing borders themselves.
The ease with which opportunistic smugglers are able to set boats sailing from the various North African coasts is astounding. The response from the European governments has been that of every year: a lot of mourning and public grief, but little framework of action up to this point. The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi publicly denounced the unfortunate event, which he categorised as “a new slave trade”, Britain’s David Cameron urged to “go after traffickers (and) help stabilise these countries” and Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Europe to find “answers” to this crisis.
Yet identifying the problem will do little to appease the matters if there is no action taken. Ahead of a meeting by the European Commission (E.C.), some initial tentative proposals have been brought to the discussion table, ranging from an increase in vigilance to greater cooperation with the countries of origin. However, this is nothing new, year after year the E.C. continues its reactive (as opposed to proactive) approach to migration problems and year after year, we continue to see the inefficiency of this method.